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Rev Up Your Earning Power: Why a Degree is Still Worth It

When 36-year old Melissa decided to finish her college degree, she assumed it would help her in the salary department—at least a little.

Turns out, “a little” was far more than Melissa imagined. In fact, earning her bachelor’s degree nearly doubled her annual earnings.

“I was shocked at the salary disparity between those with just a high school diploma and those with a bachelor’s degree,” says Melissa. “I mean, I figured I’d get a raise, but I had no idea that my salary would go up exponentially.”

Even more impressive is the lifetime earnings potential of higher education graduates like Melissa: $2.3 million for an associate’s degree, $3.4 million for a bachelor’s degree, and $3.8 million for a master’s degree. Compare that to $1.8 million for a high school diploma and the disparity becomes quite apparent. You can see these numbers and more on page 5 of this study put out by The Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

There’s no refuting those numbers: Earning a degree is still one of the best ways to improve your fiscal fitness.

Bigger Salaries

Not everyone can be a millionaire drop out like serial entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson or Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. That’s just reality. However, the good news is that the rest of us can see a few more digits on our paychecks by buckling down and completing our college degree.

Bottom line: College graduates’ take-home salaries are, on average, 88% higher than high school graduates.

Better Promotions

Completing your degree takes hard work and perseverance. Such determination and tenacity are exactly what makes current or prospective employers take serious notice. In addition, as the U.S. continues to move toward a more knowledge-based economy, a degree will very likely be a key qualifier for who gets the promotion—and who doesn’t.

Bottom line: A college degree can be a major differentiator in a highly competitive work world.

More Career Opportunities

“Degree required.” “College preferred.” Job listings are full of these caveats. “The vast majority of new jobs require higher skills and if you don’t have a college degree, your chances of being in the middle class are visibly diminished,” said Jamie P. Merisotis, president and chief executive officer of the Lumina Foundation, an Indianapolis-based private foundation committed to enrolling and graduating more students from college. From accounting to engineering to business, the share of jobs requiring postsecondary education has gone from about half to almost three-quarters since the 1970s, say researchers at the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

Bottom line: Professional and related occupations, many requiring postsecondary education, is expected to be the fastest growing major occupational group. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

Lower Unemployment Rates

Unemployment happens, even in the healthiest of economic times. And although double-digit unemployment is too scary for most people to dwell on, zero unemployment is simply not a reality. While college graduates are not immune to unemployment or underemployment, one of the best ways to recession proof yourself is postsecondary education.

Bottom line: Current unemployment rates for college graduates are 4.7 percent vs. 15.6 percent for high school graduates.

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